COVID-19 and Sinus Infection
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- Similar symptoms, such as sore throat, headache, and cough, can be present in both COVID-19 and sinus infections
- COVID-19 is more contagious and could pose a greater risk than a sinus infection
- Antibiotics may need to be prescribed to clear a sinus infection
- The best way to distinguish between COVID and a sinus infection is to take a COVID-test
In recent years, common respiratory illnesses such as sinus infections have become more worrisome due to the emergence of COVID-19. While both conditions share some common symptoms, such as a sore throat, headache, and cough, they differ in severity, contagiousness, and potential health consequences.
Understanding the differences between these two illnesses is crucial in determining appropriate medical treatment and preventative measures. In this article, we explore the differences between COVID-19 and sinus infections and provide guidance on how to different
Is it COVID-19 or a sinus infection?
COVID-19 can appear with a range of signs that may be similar to those of a sinus infection. To understand where your symptoms are coming from, it’s essential to know your sinuses and how they can cause COVID-like symptoms.
Your sinuses are hollow spaces in the skull that are filled with air. They can be found in various parts of the face such as the forehead and the area under your eyes. The sinuses help humidify and heat the air you inhale, increase the resonance of speech, and provide an extra layer of protection for the vital structures of the head in case of injuries to the face. 1 2 3
These hollow spaces have an inner lining that drains into the nose. As the lining of the nose and the sinuses are connected, nose infections can easily spread to the sinuses. If the sinuses become inflamed, then you have sinusitis. Sinusitis is mainly caused by viruses, but can also be caused by bacteria in some cases. 1
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Pain or pressure around your cheeks, eyes or forehead
- Mucus dripping down the throat
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
- Reduced sense of smell
- Green or yellow discharge from the nose
Most of these symptoms can also occur with a COVID infection, so distinguishing between them may not be easy. However, on top of these symptoms, an infection with the coronavirus is more likely to cause respiratory symptoms such as coughing and pneumonia, as well as gastro-intestinal symptoms such as diarrhea.
How long does a sinus infection last?
A sinus infection usually goes away on its own after a few days to weeks. If a bacteria cause your sinusitis, then your doctor may recommend you to wait for 2-3 days to see if your symptoms are improving. If not, then you might get a prescription for antibiotics.
Recent studies also suggest that some people may develop sinus infections after COVID. As the immune system may be debilitated after an infection with the coronavirus, some people may develop fungal infections of the sinuses. This complication doesn’t occur often, but it’s important to still be watchful, as this is a serious condition that needs to be recognized and treated promptly to avoid life-threatening complications. 4
A fungal infection of the sinuses may present itself with: 4
- Sudden facial pain
- Nasal congestion
- Bulging eyes
- Decreased eyesight
- Facial numbness
This medical emergency should be treated as soon as possible with antifungal medication and surgery if necessary.
COVID-19 vs. sinus infection
There are some key differences between COVID-19 and sinus infections that can help you distinguish which one you may be suffering from. The first difference is the onset of symptoms. Sinus infections typically start with gradual symptoms, while COVID-19 symptoms can appear suddenly. Sinus infection symptoms usually develop over several days, often including a stuffy or runny nose, facial pain or pressure, and mild fever. COVID-19 symptoms, on the other hand, can appear suddenly and include a high fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
Another difference is the severity of the symptoms. Sinus infections usually cause mild to moderate symptoms, whereas COVID-19 can cause severe symptoms that may require hospitalization. Sinus infection symptoms are typically limited to the nose and sinuses, while COVID-19 symptoms can affect the lungs and other parts of the body.
The contagiousness of the illnesses is also different. Sinus infections are generally not contagious and do not spread from person to person. COVID-19, on the other hand, is highly infectious and can spread quickly from person to person through respiratory droplets.
The table below outlines the differences between COVID-19 and sinus infections. 5
Onset of symptoms
Pain or Pressure around Cheeks, Eyes or Forehead
Reduced Sense of Smell
Green or Yellow Discharge from the Nose
Gastrointestinal Symptoms such as Diarrhea
Testing is also an important factor in distinguishing between a sinus infection and COVID-19. While a sinus infection is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and a physical exam, COVID-19 requires a specific test.
How can sinusitis be treated?
If COVID-19 causes your symptoms, you should rest and try to ease your symptoms. If you have sinusitis, treatment depends on whether a virus or a bacteria causes the infection. In any case, there are some ways to ease the pain or pressure which you may be experiencing: 2
- Place a warm compress over the nose and forehead
- Breathe in steam from hot water or a shower
- Use a decongestant or saline nasal spray
Sinusitis and COVID-19 are two conditions that may appear with the same symptoms. A COVID test can help differentiate between the two. In both cases, taking rest and easing your symptoms is essential. If your doctor diagnoses you with bacterial sinusitis, you may be prescribed antibiotics.
Q: What is the difference between symptoms of COVID-19 and sinus infection?
A: The symptoms of COVID-19 and a sinus infection are very similar, although COVID-19 is more likely to cause respiratory and gastro-intestinal symptoms.
Q: Is there a way to determine if you have sinusitis or COVID-19?
A: The best way to distinguish between the two is to take a COVID test.
Q: Can a sinus infection cause a positive rapid COVID test?
A: You will only test positive for COVID if the actual virus is present. So sinus infections won’t cause a positive rapid COVID test.
Q: Is my loss of taste due to a sinus infection or COVID?
A: A loss of taste is a symptom more likely for COVID, although sinus infections can cause a loss of smell, which may also go together with a decrease in taste.
Q: Can COVID turn into a sinus infection?
A: In some cases for people with a weakened immune system, fungal infections of the sinuses may develop after COVID. If you think this is the case, you should contact your doctor immediately.